Local man a finalist to win trip into space
By VANESSA RADATUS
Mercer Island Reporter Contributor
March 13, 2012 · Updated 9:31 AM
In honor of its 50th birthday, Seattle’s iconic Space Needle has embarked on a new frontier, offering the experience of a lifetime to one lucky contestant: a trip into space. The Space Needle announced the contest last August, offering prizes including a Celestron telescope, a zero-gravity experience aboard G-FORCE ONE, a Space Needle adventure for two, and the grand prize, a trip to see the Earth from an unparalleled perspective.
“The Space Needle was built when our country was in a global space race,” said Ron Sevart, president and CEO of the Space Needle, LLC in a statement last fall. “With space travel moving to the private sector, a new race has begun that focuses on the best of what the Space Needle has become: a symbol of the aspirations of today’s world of technology and science.”
Through a partnership with Space Adventures, a commercial spaceflight company, the winner will become the eighth person from the general public to witness the darkness of space and the curvature of our planet from 62 miles above the atmosphere.
“What better way than sending a person from our midst into space to mark our first 50 years and look into the exciting future that lies ahead,” Sevart added.
For most people, the idea of leisurely visiting the outskirts of Earth’s atmosphere is hard to fathom. But for one devoted space enthusiast, that dream will become a reality in mid-April.
From a pool of 50,000 applicants, 1,000 of them were randomly selected to compete for the grand prize. Now, only 20 remain and they are counting on friends, family and followers to vote their way to the top. Among the 20 space aficionados is one of our own, Mercer Islander Roger Ressmeyer, a world-renowned photographer who has been captivated by astronomy since childhood. He recalls building launch rockets, photographing the stars and polishing optics for telescopes he built by hand. His dream was to become an astronaut.
But this was put to a halt in his early adolescence. “When I was diagnosed with diabetes at age 13, the doctor said two things,” Ressmeyer recalled. “‘I have bad news and good news.’ The bad news was I’d be taking shots for the rest of my life, and the good news was, I could still become anything I wanted in life, except of course, an astronaut.”
Shocked by the news, Ressmeyer said his previous knowledge with telescope optics inspired him to take up photography. By the time he was 21, he had found the niche that would launch his career full force.
“I realized my life has been better because of diabetes,” he said. “It has enabled me to explore. I picked up the camera as a result and that became my therapy. With the camera, I had the power to pick up this intuition of how to capture the emotions of people and events that have a real impact.”
Ressmeyer’s career and life experiences are nothing short of awe-inspiring. He has photographed a myriad of the world’s famous — Bill Gates, Madonna, Carlos Santana, David Bowie, Prince, The Clash — and so on. He has covered everything from the launch of the Discovery spaceship to the total eclipse of the sun in 1990, which was selected as National Geographic’s “100 Best Photos of All Time.”
Among other things, by the time he was 23, he had shot photo essays and portrait covers for the National Geographic, People, Rolling Stone and TIME magazines. But even with such a rewarding and successful career, Ressmeyer’s passion for science and space has been relentless. For the last 10 years, his focus has been on his family and community. He has been teaching rocketry as an elective with his son and co-teacher Ryan, 13, to students at Seattle Country Day School. They learn to build low-power and high-power rockets and plan to launch them at 60 Acres Park in May.
“Today’s students are America’s future,” Ressmeyer said. “Teaching them [about rocketry] is inspirational because exploration gets them excited about all the sciences — from chemistry and physics to math and biology.”
For Ressmeyer, the opportunity to win a trip to space would be like placing the last piece of a puzzle to make it complete. “I have been working towards this moment my whole life,” he said. “The only fear I have about going to space is, I have an 8-year-old daughter, Rachel, and 13-year-old son, Ryan. I have to make sure it’s safe.”
As a photojournalist, he said the most fulfilling aspect about this experience would be the ability to tell a story through his photos.
“I think that if there’s a way for me to win this contest, I am most excited to take pictures inside the vessel,” he said. “I want to capture the emotion of people in the vessel looking out into space. You don’t usually see an astronaut without his helmet, so it would be different — a person, a sheet of glass and a vacuum.”
Above all, he believes the contest itself is something to pay tribute to. Since the completion of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program last July, a new era is arriving with non-government-run space travel.
“We are witnessing a new space age and everything about this program is original. It’s going to be newsworthy. It’s going to be historical,” he said.
For now, Ressmeyer is proactively learning the loops of Facebook and social media outlets to be voted into the next phase. Ressmeyer has proven he is an expert in photography of all fields and has the ability to tell a story through images. His latest goal is to share a new kind of story with anyone who has ever strived to achieve the impossible, he said.
“I’ve spent my life going against what doctors told me I could not do. When I was 13, the message was that I would have 20 years to live. With the help of advances in medicine and technology, I have surpassed these odds. I have been able to scuba dive, climb mountains and photograph erupting volcanoes. Above all things, though, I would like to go to space to show diabetics like myself that anything is possible.”
Vanessa Radatus is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.